MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca was officially appointed to the top post for another year at the annual Township Committee (TC) reorganization meeting on Monday, where he also was sworn in to another three-year term on the governing body.
At the same meeting, newly-elected TC member Dean Dafis was sworn in, marking the first time an openly gay member will sit on the committee. Both were voted in during the November election, when they defeated Republican Mike Summersgill.
Dafis replaces former TC member India Larrier who chose not to run again.
Current TC member Frank McGehee will be Deputy Mayor.
In a sign of diversity, both men were sworn in with their hands on a stack of three religious books – a Christian bible, a Hebrew bible, and a copy of the Quran. The meeting’s invocation, memorial prayer, and benediction were also conducted by representatives of those three faiths.
DeLuca, who was first elected to the TC in 1997 and previously served as mayor from 2001 to 2003, is entering his 10th straight year on the governing body after returning to the top post in 2009, continuing a streak as the second-longest serving mayor in township history. Only former Republican Mayor Robert Grassmere had a longer stint at 20 years.
During his State of the Township address, DeLuca declared the state of Maplewood to be “in excellent shape.” He later added, “The Maplewood brand remains strong and our reputation is very positive. Our town is inviting and welcoming, diverse and inclusive, and a place of choice for those looking to buy a home, open up a business or patronize our restaurants and shops. We remain a safe and vibrant community in which to live and raise a family.”
As has been his practice, DeLuca tallied the accomplishments of the past 12 months that included improved recognition nationally as an LGBT friendly town, new shops and restaurants, housing developments, and growing home and property values.
DeLuca did point out that the Republican tax plan that has hit the property tax deduction could hurt local areas, while noting our position as a commuter line may help.
“Without question, the most difficult state agency we had to deal with last year was New Jersey Transit,” DeLuca continued. “Prior to the ‘Summer of Hell,’ Mayors and other elected officials along the Morris and Essex Rail Line experienced the 'Spring of Disrespect.' It was only by chance in late May that we found out through a governor's press conference that all M&E trains will be diverted to Hoboken. So roughly six weeks before the July track work was to start, local officials were in the dark. NJ Transit ignored and disrespected us throughout the entire planning process. A meeting with NJ Transit officials was finally held on June 7th; the first time we were given an opportunity to comment on the diversion plan, just 33 days before its start. Our commuters made it through the summer, some better than others. The early trains and six buses to the city were a tremendous help. Commuters showed they can be resilient and handle change once we provided them with accurate information on travel options.”
The mayor also pointed to the troubled police department and the claims of abuse that led to the ouster of former Chief Robert Cimino.
“By far, the greatest challenge we faced last year was with our police department,” DeLuca said. “The incident on July 5, 2016 is indefensible and a stain on our community. The horror of that night was made even worse by the delay by the Essex County Prosecutor’s investigation. For nearly a year, the Township Committee’s hands were tied by the internal affairs investigation process. Last June we engaged Hillard Heintze to conduct an independent assessment of the incident. Then on August 1st we placed the chief and captain on administrative leave. Both are no longer working for the Maplewood Police Department. The Township Committee is committed to working with the community to rebuild trust in and confidence with the police. We and Acting Police Chief DeVaul are working with a dedicated group of residents to establish the charter and operating procedures for a Civilian Police Board. We see the creation of this Board as a critical step as we move forward.”
After thanking a lengthy list of supporters and friends, Dafis noted the unity and diversity of Maplewood he saw in his campaign and the need for that effort to continue against negative forces.
“The message of unity in community, one Maplewood for all, not ‘Maplegood’ or ‘Maplehood’ really resonated with so many working families all across town,” Dafis said. “At a time when we are being divided by a national regressive agenda, demoralized and struggling to make ends meet.”
One sign of unity came during the vote for mayor Monday in which all five TC members unanimously chose DeLuca, a sharp break from the vote that occurred just a few weeks ago.
During the annual TC Democratic caucus on Dec. 19, where the governing body informally chooses the next mayor, the group was divided, 3-2, between DeLuca and TC member Greg Lembrich. DeLuca, Dafis and TC Member Nancy Adams supported DeLuca while Lembrich and TC Member Frank McGehee chose Lembrich.
Dafis’ vote was a last-minute surprise as he himself revealed he had planned to support Lembrich. But during Monday’s official vote, Lembrich and McGehee threw their support to DeLuca with Lembrich making a heartfelt statement about DeLuca and why he is a proper choice to serve as mayor again.
“While I know that Maplewood would continue to benefit from Vic’s experience, leadership and commitment regardless of which chair on the Township Committee he occupies,” Lembrich said. “As our state enters a new administration I am pleased to support him for a 10th consecutive term as mayor. As I’ve said before, Vic is the consummate public servant -- Always going above and beyond to attend every event, listen to every resident and pitch in every time help is needed for something in our community. He sets the tone for this Township Committee and strongly reaffirms our joint commitment to serve all parts of Maplewood, both geographic and democratic.”
Another sign of unity was when Lembrich hugged Dafis after he was sworn in.
All photos courtesy of Carl Patterson of CP Photo Op Photography.